Standard is moving quickly.
Since Delver is the best deck, most of Magic's top minds are working on tuning that deck week in and week out. It's just easier to get an edge with a tuned version of the best deck than it is to grind with Zombies, G/R Aggro, or Wolf Run Ramp every week. The same thing happened last year with Caw-Blade, and I don't see anything changing unless something gets banned.
However, there is hope. The last few weeks of the StarCityGames.com Open Series, in addition to Magic Online Daily Events, have produced some top-notch technology that I'll share with you today. In order to understand that technology, I'm going to present you with ten Standard truths.
1) Birthing Pod is better than G/R Aggro.
G/R Aggro is a fine deck in its own right, but Birthing Pod adds an aspect that G/R decks can't hope to replicate. With Pod, you have access to a card that, if it stays in play, your opponent will have a difficult time beating. Most of G/R's threats are similar, but they are easily dealt with from widely played cards. Most decks don't have any way to kill a Birthing Pod, and their only hope is to kill you before you take over the game.
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 4 Hound of Griselbrand
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Pyreheart Wolf
- 1 Stingerfling Spider
- 3 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
StarCityGames.com's own Dan Unwin has been playing various G/R decks with Hound of Griselbrand, and this is the one I like the most. I'm not sure if Hound is as good as Dan seems to think it is, but it's certainly something different. I would like to see a Priest of Urabrask to Pod into, which would allow you cast Green Sun's Zenith (for Primeval Titan if it were in the deck), Hound, or another six-drop. That might just be me being cute though, as no one else seems to like it.
2) Prepare to get Plummeted.
Last weekend in Columbus I was Plummeted, Crushing Vinesed, and Thunderbolted, and things aren't getting any less hostile from here. Your Consecrated Sphinx is no longer as safe as you think it is, so try and draw out the Plummet if you can.
Cutting the Sphinxes from your sideboard is akin to siding out your creatures versus a deck with a lot of removal, though. If anything, you want to overload their removal not try to play around it. Things like Frost Titan and Sun Titan are solid but aren't as powerful as Sphinx. Even if you get rid of Sphinx, are you going to cut your Angels and Delvers too? Nope, you're going to have to keep those so your opponent's removal will be live anyway.
3) If Plummet is good, Doom Blade is awesome!
If you're boarding in a card that only Doom Blades fliers, surely Doom Blade is a good card. The problem is that black isn't a very good color right now. The good sweepers are in red and white, and while Black Sun's Zenith exists, it's pretty slow.
As always, Patrick Chapin has the answers.
4) Wolf Run Black is where you want to be.
Attempting to kill all of Delver's threats with Whipflares and Slagstorms should be a thing of the past. In Columbus, a single Wolf Run Ramp deck placed while G/R Aggro and similar decks like Naya Pod made a couple cashes. I would imagine the prevalence of Restoration Angel kept a lot of those decks in check. The fact that Naya Pod was better represented than G/R is very telling.
I don't have a list, but that's what people like Conley Woods are for.
5) Swords are getting worse.
Some people think otherwise, but just like with Plummet, people are prepared now. G/R Aggro players used to not care all that much about Sword of War and Peace, and rightly so. In fact, I was typically siding my Swords out against them. However, with Sword of Feast and Famine on the rise they need to pack some answers, and we're at the point where everyone knows you have it.
If you think you can live with cutting Swords from your deck, you probably should. They're good when they're not getting blown up, but if you don't need them why bother? At first I thought I was crushing G/R decks because of Feast and Famine, but I later realized it was because of Restoration Angel.
Swords make winning games a lot easier, but you don't need them. However, you should play to your strengths, figure out if you need Swords or not, and figure out which ones. Sometimes they won't have it and you'll collect some easy match points, but sometimes you'll get blown out. You just have to live with it.
6) Sun Titan still exists.
A very loose looking Solar Flare deck won the last SCG Open, and that isn't the last you'll see of Sun Titan. It dominates the midrange decks and plays well with Phantasmal Image, which you want to play with anyway.
When I expected Sun Titan to be the best creature in a month, it was because I assumed Sun Titan would dominate Primeval Titans. However, it looks like Delver has adapted and pushed Wolf Run Ramp out of the format.
Delver is super weak to control right now...
7) Lingering Souls is good versus Delver but outdated in Delver.
Trust me, I love Lingering Souls and hate being on the wrong end of it, but using it to beat Delver mirrors is archaic. It always seemed so good in theory, but after losing to several Geist of Saint Trafts I had to wonder if I was getting unlucky or if they were just strategically favored. In the end, I decided that lightning doesn't strike several times and I was probably wrong.
Going forward, I refuse to touch a Delver deck with Lingering Souls. Obviously that could change, but we'll see. The main problem is that cards like Vapor Snag look like they line up unfavorably to Lingering Souls, but all you need is time. Using Vapor Snag to blow out a double block ends up costing you a card, but it doesn't matter when you're staying ahead.
Additionally, playing with Drogskol Captains is asking to get punished. There are so many Dismembers and Vapor Snags running around, plus everyone knows what you're up to so you can't ever assemble the dream of double Captain. Even if you do, who does a pair of 3/3 fliers beat anyway? Restoration Angel changes everything.
All that said, I still like the Ratchet Bombs in the Delver sideboard, and I wouldn't mind playing a Surgical Extraction or two. Those would mostly be for control decks with Lingering Souls and/or Unburial Rites, but W/B Tokens has a difficult time beating you without Souls so you might as well.
8) Celestial Purge may need to make a comeback.
At Grand Prix Minneapolis, I defeated two Zombies decks with my one Celestial Purge. At SCG Standard Open: Nashville, I defeated Zombies with zero Celestial Purges. However, I wouldn't mind having a better matchup against that deck. Also, I really like having one Purge to board in against Huntmaster decks, so going forward I'll probably be including one.
Last weekend I played against a Curse of Death's Hold deck, and while I beat it, having access to a Purge or two would have made things a lot easier. At this point, my Delver list is becoming so inbred that things like Grixis or U/B Control could very easily dispatch it, so I'm trying to mitigate that risk.
9) Zombies is good but you need a curve; it starts with Blood Artist.
In a recent playtesting video, I was handily stomped by Brad Nelson and his handful of Pillar of Flames and Vapor Snags. Clearly Pillar is going to be an issue no matter what, but Snag you can actually do something about.
I don't think you need Killing Wave, but I would like an additional two-drop. Jesse Smith uses Porcelain Legionnaire, but I think Highborn Ghoul would be better. The only other real difference in our lists is that I'm playing a ton of removal.
I know that against Delver I won't be able to get much traction. They'll be Snagging and Mana Leaking and casting Timely Reinforcements, so how am I supposed to power through that? Their game plan is tempoing me out using those cards, so if I can stop them from getting traction as well I'll eventually win.
Perhaps a combination of #1 and #9 could be a thing. Several players, like Jeremy Neeman and Michael Jacob, have been championing Zombie Pod as of late. I played against it at Grand Prix Minneapolis, and while I won, the match was still very, very close.
Here's Jeremy's list for reference:
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Blood Artist
- 1 Butcher Ghoul
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Phyrexian Obliterator
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
When you have three relevant creatures in play by turn 3, how often does Delver beat you? From my experience, those are exactly the games I lose versus G/R Aggro and Zombies. If that tells you anything, it should be to lower your mana curve! As I said earlier, you can skimp in that regard by playing a lot of removal, but you absolutely need to apply pressure at some point. Presumably, that pressure you're applying isn't weak to Vapor Snag.
I'm sure there are other decks that could exist using this strategy, like Humans or Token variants. I haven't seen many of them succeed, but that might be because of Wolf Run Ramp and its Slagstorms. If there was ever a time to flood the board with creatures, that time is now.
I kind of wanted to write an article on being aggressive and learning how to play tempo decks like Delver, but I really wanted a lot of actual in game situations to reference. Magic Online has lost several of my replays, so I didn't have that to fall back on. I did have this game that was interesting enough, so I wanted to share.
I was on the play versus unknown opponent and I had this opener:
Clearly I kept as I had early pressure, several cantrips to find land, and Snapcaster Mages, and I led with Island, Delver of Secrets, pass. Why not Probe here? Because it's basically pointless. There is nothing our opponent could have that would change my play, so I might as well wait a turn and get extra information. If I draw a land at some point, I'll almost certainly Snapcaster a Probe so I'll see his hand anyway, but what if I don't and am forced to Ponder? I'll be left wondering what his last card is.
And I drew another Snapcaster, cast one of them, flashed back the Probe, and drew Moorland Haunt. In hindsight, it seemed really bad to expose my two creatures to a Bonfire of the Damned for one, and maybe I should have cast Ponder in order to flip my Delver. At the time it just seemed wrong to use my mana inefficiently, which is something I strive to do with these decks.
I kept them in that order, representing Mana Leak. If he Bonfired me, I was prepared to run out Snapcaster at end of turn. He respected the Leak and instead played a Llanowar Elf and left open Wolfir Avenger mana. I transformed Delver of Secrets and attacked with just it, as he could ambush my Snapcaster, and then I tapped out for Sword. He was content with Bonfiring me for two, attacking, and playing another Birds.
I tapped out for Geist with him at thirteen life, and he attacked me down to eight, played Garruk Relentless, made a Wolf, and passed. My fourth mana source allowed me to Probe him, cast the Delver I drew, equip Sword, and attack him down to five, ignoring his Garruk. After all, the game was going to end in a turn or two, so why did Garruk matter?
Maybe that game meant nothing, but in my mind it was a perfect example of that deck doing everything it can to get on board and pressure you, kill all your guys, and still fall short. It also illustrated a few things that people seem to overlook like when to Probe, when to Ponder, and how to use your mana efficiently. I even failed some of those tests!
I probably should have Pondered on turn 2, as cycling my Snapcaster Mage did basically nothing. That would have allowed me to flip my Delver and then tap out for Sword. I used my mana poorly but didn't end up getting punished for it.
While I didn't exactly spell anything out for you guys this week, I hope that my points have provided you with a clearer picture of the Standard format and what you need to be doing.
This weekend I'm railbirding from home, but I have an Invitational Qualifier to play in Roanoke. If you have any sweet brews for me to play, post them in the comments!